Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is the most well-funded candidate running to represent California's new 42nd Congressional District: Long Beach and the cities of Southeast Los Angeles County. The latest campaign filing shows that his campaign for the primary election has amassed more than a million dollars. But what about the earliest phases of his campaign? Who were the earliest donors to support Garcia's bid for Congress?
Here, following a tip from a public school teacher in one of the cities of the District, Bell Gardens, we investigated the surprising connections between Robert Garcia, the charter school lobby, and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's top associates. The available evidence shows that some of the nation's top charter school supporters—including passengers who flew with Epstein on his private plane—are throwing their support behind Garcia, showing their interest in his potential to intervene on the nation's public schools.
Specifically, campaign finance records show that in the days that followed Garcia's December 2021 campaign announcement, two pro-charter school, long-time associates of Epstein—billionaire Casey Wasserman and former LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner—provided the maximum contribution to Garcia's campaign. Below, we outline the known scope of Garcia’s involvement with these pro-charter school Epstein associates, and detail his efforts to gain their favor.
Jeffrey Epstein's enthusiasm for private charter schools
Following the 2019 arrest of Jeffrey Epstein and the 2021 trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the world learned of the truly global scale and network associated with the sex crimes of Jeffrey Epstein. Many victims told their stories in Netflix' Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, noting that Epstein and Maxwell promised to help them achieve an education, often by sending them to expensive private schools.
A less-known fact is that Epstein sought to generally transform the American educational system. Specifically, he aimed to promote a move away from traditional public schools to independent charter schools. He once said, “Charter schools have the freedom to self-regulate. It’s a critical component of their success.”
Upon Epstein's 2019 indictment, his pro-charter school views were highlighted by notable educators, including NYU Professor Diane Ravitch, who wrote that Epstein "was a philanthropist encouraging the growth of school privatization, not just as competition but as a replacement for public schools." Of Epstein's behavior, she said he "succeeded because he was unregulated, neither his appetites nor his activities were regulated."
Jeffrey Epstein, Casey Wasserman, Bill Clinton, and the push for charter schools
In the movement for charter schools, Epstein was joined by President Bill Clinton as well as by Robert Garcia’s donor, Casey Wasserman, the billionaire CEO of the Wasserman Media Group. Flight records posted by Gawker (transcribed here) show that, starting in 2002, Wasserman flew on Jeffrey Epstein's Boeing 727 (“the Lolita Express”) at least 10 times, along with Bill Clinton, Jeffrey Epstein, Kevin Spacey, Ghislaine Maxwell, and several others.
Immediately following the trip, The Los Angeles Times profiled Wasserman and labeled him "a well-nourished mogul." A year later, Wasserman was named in Vanity Fair’s infamous profile on Epstein (“The Talented Mr. Epstein”), wherein the public was told that the purpose of the trip was to “explore the problems of AIDS and economic development in Africa.”
Later, the trip came to be recognized as the initial stages of the controversial Clinton Foundation. Only recently, in 2022, have Epstein’s sexual offenses on the Africa trip started to come to light, alongside pictures of Bill Clinton receiving massages from young women.
In the years following the trip, Wasserman continued his close contact with Bill Clinton. A profile in The Hollywood Reporter noted the bond they have because of “the unique work they do fighting childhood obesity.” It was during this time that Wasserman became a prolific donor to the Democratic Party and its politicians, most of whom are now backing Robert Garcia.
Wasserman also became an early supporter of charter schools in Los Angeles. In 2006, he gifted 6 million to Green Dot Public Schools, following up in 2011 with additional funding specifically for the Public School Choice program. And, just as he was funding charter schools, Wasserman also funded the Clintons, with leaked emails showing Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign Chair John Podesta making time to call Wasserman, “thanking Casey for his support."
Although Robert Garcia was not in public life in the earliest years of the Clinton Foundation or Wasserman’s push for charter schools, it is notable that Garcia has been elevated by Wasserman, the Clinton family, and their Foundation. He welcomed Hillary Clinton's 2014 visit to Long Beach, which focused on raising money for the Boys & Girls Club. He then introduced her at 2016 rallies, and served as one of her delegates at the DNC. Garcia also delivered an address to the Clinton Foundation as recently as 2021.
Epstein visits Long Beach
During the early 2010s, as Wasserman was pushing charter school in Los Angeles, Epstein made his way to Long Beach. In March 2011, having just finished a 13-month stay in Florida state prison for soliciting prostitution from an underage girl, Epstein attended a “billionaires’ dinner” in Downtown Long Beach, with several of the world’s wealthiest people, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
At the time, Long Beach was hosting a TED Conference. Epstein was well-known for having attended TED Conferences with ease (“TED was hard to get into, yet Jeffrey could show up with 11 people and they would all get passes.”) Some of his closest associates even spoke at TED; a talk by Ghislaine Maxwell has been censored heavily by YouTube, but it can still be found on Facebook.
During the conference, Robert Garcia was still in his first term as a Council Member. And while there is no known evidence that he attended or interacted with any of the billionaires at the dinner, Garcia did note his excitement for the TED Conference. He tweeted, “The fact that the TED conference is in Long Beach, is well - dope.”
Garcia collaborates with Los Angeles' top charter school advocate
In the years following Epstein's visit to Long Beach, Garcia met another of Epstein’s associates, Austin Beutner, the investment banker, former CEO of The Los Angeles Times, and eventual pro-charter school Superintendent of LAUSD. Buetner appeared alongside Epstein as early as 2002, at the elite Council of Foreign Relations. They were members of the Council as late as 2009, after Epstein had already been convicted in Florida. (The Council notoriously failed to condemn Epstein).
Beutner has collaborated with Robert Garcia since at least early 2015, when Beutner’s organization Vision to Learn agreed to provide glasses for Long Beach students. Notably, the organization held a contract with LAUSD, and when Beutner became LAUSD Superintendent, he refused to separate himself from Vision to Learn. At the height of teachers’ and parents’ push against Buetner's policies, Unified Teachers Los Angeles noted Beutner’s dedication to turning LAUSD into a District focused on “public funds for private gain.”
Indeed, Beutner's time as LAUSD Superintendent was marked by expansion of charter schools—many outside critics described him as an "agent of privatization." It is known that Beutner wanted to support politicians who support charter schools, and by December 2017, Beutner had made the maximum contribution to Garcia's campaign for Mayor.
Garcia, Wasserman, and the 2028 Olympics
Soon after Garcia collaborated with Beutner, Garcia and Wasserman connected. They flew to Lima, Peru—Garcia's hometown—with a delegation from the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Epstein flight passenger, Wasserman, is the Chair of the Committee. Writing from Lima in September 2017, Garcia said "I am here with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA 2028 President Casey Wasserman as part of the Olympic delegation."
Garcia posted few pictures from the trip, and it is not clear whether he flew privately with Wasserman and other elites, or whether there were any minors on the flight(s). Nonetheless, the International Olympic Committee YouTube Channel did show Garcia and Wasserman standing together at the signing ceremony, with Garcia taking pictures, smiling to the cameras, and embracing Wasserman.
After returning from Lima, in January 2018, Garcia could be seen further complementing Wasserman, tweeting "Nice new digs @caseywasserman!" as a reply to Wasserman's tweet. However, it is not known what Wasserman tweeted. As observed by @NOlympicsLA, Wasserman locked down his social media accounts on the day that Jeffrey Epstein was found injured in his cell.
As Garcia runs for Congress, abuse details during Epstein-Wasserman trip emerge
An April 2022 profile in The Daily Beast examines the 2002 experience of Juliette Bryant, a South African victim of Epstein during the 2002 Africa trip. She "wonders why Epstein’s prominent friends like Clinton aren’t under further scrutiny."
While Wasserman has refused numerous requests for comment on his relationship by @NOlympicsLA, numerous sources are calling for accountability from Epstein's associates. The BBC recently quoted a U.K. Attorney saying, "The government would be very interested in evidence against others who allegedly sexually abused children along with Epstein and Maxwell, particularly politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and royalty."
Notably, when Wasserman was a passenger on Epstein's plane, so was Sarah Kellen—Epstein's “lieutenant”. She is known to have attended a "billionaires' dinners" party held by the founder of Edge.org, with a person who appears to be underage. This individual can be found in Epstein's Little Black Book, alongside her parents' information. She also appears on the passenger list of the Africa trip, alongside Wasserman, Epstein, Kellen, Clinton, and Maxwell.
Pressure is mounting on Wasserman to comment on his trip with Epstein: MacIntosh Rush, a professor of Kinesiology in Canada, tweeted on April 20th, 2022, "Think the world is finally ready to talk about Casey Wasserman's relationship with Jeffrey Epstein? He's a huge player in sports. My boxing followers will know the name from Wasserman Boxing. For Olympic folks, he's the chairman of LA28. It needs a look."
Robert Garcia, Epstein’s associates, and the future of public education
Charter schools are expanding nationwide, including in much of the area of California's 42nd Congressional District, such as in Cudahy. There is additional concern about expansion in neighboring Bell Gardens. Likewise, residents in Downey are raising the alarm about charter school money entering local races. Some anti-charter school educators have even protested Garcia at campaign events, saying "He is pro-charter, anti-union!"
Indeed, while Epstein is dead, his associates' quest to privatize and de-regulate public education lives on. As recently as 2019, Wasserman appeared publicly with LAUSD's most pro-charter Board Member, Nick Melvoin. Together, Wasserman and Melvoin, joined by Beutner and Clinton, are continuing to push privatization of the nation's schools.
And who will help them at the federal level? While public schools continue to face funding challenges, Congress recently passed 440 million for the Charter Schools Program, and charter school advocates are already requesting additional funding.
It is clear that, through his collaboration with Beutner, Garcia showed Epstein's pro-charter school, "Lolita Express" associates—Wasserman and Clinton—that he is eager to expand the privatization of public education. As a result, it seems that they are eager to elevate the Long Beach Mayor to national office.
Political Life is a collective of citizen-journalists in Los Angeles County.